Monday, February 26, 2018

Port Of Shadows Cover Revealed!



From Tor:
https://www.tor.com/2018/02/26/cover-reveals-glen-cook-port-of-shadows-the-black-company/

Well, here it is! We finally have a cover for Port of Shadows, the new Black Company book from grandmaster Glen Cook, arriving in September of 2018!

Once again, Raymond Swanland has delivered a fantastic cover.

From Tor's page:

"We’re excited to share the cover for Glen Cook’s Port of Shadows, a new novel of the Black Company, coming this September!

The soldiers of the Black Company don’t ask questions, they get paid. But being “The Lady’s favored” is attracting the wrong kind of attention and has put a target on their backs, and the Company’s historian, Croaker, has the biggest target of all.

The one person who was taken into The Lady’s Tower and returned unchanged has earned the special interest of the court of sorcerers known as The Ten Who Were Taken. Now, he and the company are being asked to seek the aid of their newest member, Mischievous Rain, to break a rebel army. However, Croaker doesn’t trust any of the Taken, especially not ones that look so much like The Lady and her sister…

Port of Shadows publishes this September with Tor Books. Check out the full cover below, along with a brief excerpt from the novel that inspired its design!"

Also, a brief excerpt!....

"The chimes turned orchestral as she stepped down from the carpet. A gust tossed her hair in streamers as black as her clothing, but shining. Her hair included several intensely scarlet streaks. A silver and lapis lazuli butterfly clip sat at the root of the boldest red stripe. She was as slim as a maiden but her face suggested past strains beyond those of any maiden’s years.

So, truth absolute. She was Taken. She had gone to the Tower. She had come out of the Tower a bespoke servant of shadow.

Nobody moved to greet her. Nobody doubted what she was, either, though no Taken had visited us in months. The Limper had been the last.

She turned my way, frowned slightly, then smiled just as the sun sneaked out from behind a cloud. Its light kissed her. Her face suddenly seemed coated with white makeup on which thin blue lines had been sketched. The light faded before I got a good look. Then I got distracted by the cat that ambled out of her shadow.

It was a three-eyed cat. You do not see many of those. It was as black as her hair. The rationally placed eyes were yellow, except when they looked straight at you. Then they became a pale lilac rose, and glowed. The third eye, above and between, was a slit visible only from straight ahead. It shone crimson for a moment, then purple."

So, yeah, exciting news...Hopefully, they will package in the 4 short stories that have already been released as chapters...We shall see.

You can read my reviews of Cook's works (including the 4 stories that came after Soldiers Live) here:

http://hachisnaxreads.blogspot.com/search/label/Glen%20Cook

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Kaiju Rising: Age Of Monsters II Kickstarter

Today is a truly momentous day! Why, you may ask? Because today marks the launch of a brand new, exciting Kickstarter: “Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters II”!



Long-time followers of the blog will remember how thrilled I was when the Kickstarter for the first edition ran. And, as we can see by general consensus around the web, the end result was stellar. For all those who haven’t read my review yet, I have a page dedicated to my reviews of all the stories here.

As an added bonus, we are joined today by my good friend Nick Sharps, who not only serves as one of the editors for this edition, but was one of the editors of the first edition as well.

Nick, it’s really great to have you here. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about the Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters II Kickstarter?

N.S.: Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters II is (unsurprisingly) a sequel to Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters, a project that is very near and dear to my heart. This time around we’re offering stories from 15 stories from such names as Marie Brennan (A Natural History of Dragons), Jeremy Robinson (Project Nemesis), Dan Wells (I Am Not a Serial Killer), Lee Murray (Into the Mist), and more.

The first Kaiju Rising anthology was a work of genius. It was filled with top-notch entries; some which played by generally accepted “kaiju rules”, and some that were completely original concepts. Yet, they were all high quality. As someone who was directly involved in putting together this tome, what was the experience like for you (then and now), and what has been some of the feedback/response that you’ve seen first-hand?

N.S.: I’m extremely proud of the first anthology and humbled by the support it garnered from the fans. To say I was impressed by the quality and diversity of the stories on display would be a Godzilla-sized understatement. The authors delivered stories that explored the kaiju genre in a number of unexpected ways and I had as much fun reading the anthology as anyone who backed the Kickstarter or bought the book after commercial release. I’m a fanboy first and an editor second (thankfully we have true professionals such as Tim Marquitz on the first book and Alana Joli Abbott to cover for me). The feedback has been largely positive, enough so that it was a no brainer to assemble a sequel.

I’m sure, like with the first Kaiju Rising, there’ll be some kick-ass add-ons and unlockable goals associated with the second edition. Can you enlighten us as to some?

N.S.: This time around we’ve decided to keep things mean and streamlined. We’re aware that the previous publisher had issues fulfilling some of its promises. We plan on dodging that bullet by taking a simpler route and just offering the sequel (in multiple formats) as well as the original. There are also Tuckerization/Red Shirt options from almost all of the authors available for fans who want to be written into giant monster stories by their favorite word weavers. It’s all about the most important thing this time around – the book.

First impressions are really important, and this cover is killer. It combines shades of Toho goodness and Harryhausen’s Kraken and brings it to a nightmarish level. Who do we have to thank for this?

N.S.: Tan Ho Sim (AlienTan) really knocked it out of the park with the Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters II cover. I think the illustration conveys what we’re aiming for with the anthology – big, beautiful, badass monsters absolutely wrecking face. We recruited Tan for this project based on his work with the Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and Monsters RPG from Gallant Knight Games. If you’re into giant monsters and role playing games you should really check it out. Hell, even if you’re not into RPGs you should check it out for the awesome art alone (disclaimer: I have a micro setting in the game book).



How about your own kaiju passion? I’ve been a kaiju fan since seeing the original King Kong in a theater re-release when I was about 5; as well as WPIX Channel 11 Godzilla marathons. You were able to deliver an anthology that satisfied a devoted fandom. What are your own favorite kaiju movies/books/etc.

N.S.: This is going to be controversial but my absolute favorite is Cloverfield. I love Cloverfield. It blew me away in theaters and my admiration of it has only grown. I’ll say 10 Cloverfield Lane deflated that passion a little but I can’t really blame the original for that as it’s only a pseudo sequel. Godzilla and all the Japanese kaiju are classics but I’m an American and I appreciate the concept of having our own giant monsters. Another controversial film choice is the 2005 remake of King Kong. Apart from the over-long bit in New York at the end I really enjoy that flick. And as far as books go I cannot recommend Jeremy Robinson’s Project Nemesis series enough. Anyone who enjoys these anthologies and hasn’t already read Robinson needs to go add Project Nemesis to their Amazon cart right now.

If you could see one grand kaiju battle, who would you choose?

N.S.: I’d actually really love to see some of the kaiju from the first anthology square off. Kane Gilmour’s Kashikoi from the story “The Lighthouse Keeper of Kurohaka Island” is a fan favorite and has an entire island made of kaiju bones to add to its kill tally. Dzoavits from Edward M. Erdelac’s “Devil’s Cap Brawl” was an interesting specimen that could hold its own in a brawl. And then C.L. Werner’s Mishipeshu from “Animikii vs. Mishipeshu” and the MECH: Age of Steel anthology story “Theseus IV vs. Mecha-Mishipeshu” is another pit fighter. I say throw the three of them in an arena and LET THEM FIGHT!



Anything else you want to add today?

N.S.: I’d like to thank you for reviewing Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters before we were even friends and for giving me the blog space to promote the sequel now. I’d also like to thank everyone who has supported these anthologies. I mentioned earlier what a humbling experience it can be. It’s no less of a humbling experience the second or third time around as it was the first. If anything it’s even more so. The amount of money the fans were able to raise for these projects, these labors of love, is staggering. I am so thankful for your continued support and I genuinely hope that you will love Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters II as much as I do.

Alright, well there you have it! So now that you have the info, head on over to Kickstarter and back this amazing anthology! Starting today, the Kaiju rise again!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Story Sample: Richard Writhen

Piggybacking from my recent review of Richard Writhen's novella "The Hiss of the Blade" (Celestial Ways Saga Book 1). I have to admit, it was tough to encapsulate the experience of reading his prose in a succinct manner -  rich vocabulary, poetic delivery, and evocative, yet brutal matter.

So, perhaps instead of explaining, the best thing to do is experience it. That's why I am happy to share this short excerpt from Richard Writhen. This is a sample from the Celestial Ways Saga Book 2, which will be released in 2018 with the title "The Angel of the Grave"...


Without further adieu, here is the excerpt. This portion is called "The Tiny Ones":


In the southwest corridor of the dry desert nation of Galgran lay the capitol city of Hruute. It was in a hovel there that two girls and a woman were sitting down to their meager supper, only afforded by that day’s earnings on the streets; porridge for dinner was par for the course in Sadine’s home; it wasn’t glamorous, but then very little about her early life was. Her mother was named Candace Cottrell, a heavy-set woman with strands of gray suffusing her long, faded brown hair; it stuck out at multiple angles from her head as she sat at one head of the large wooden dinner table. The two girls slouched on one side of it, their forearms unabashedly leaning on its lacquered surface as the three of them sat to eat their evening meal. But several minutes into the near-silent repast, as Sadine twirled her spoon in supper and Rebecca began to take a few hesitant bites, a hard knock sounded at the front door. Candace was nonplussed, but she made to quit her seat. “You two. Make yourselves scarce.”

“But mama! I’ve barely started eating …”

“No lip. Go to the basement, now.”

“But … for how long?”

“I said no lip, girl! No clue, go now.”

So Sadine and Rebecca exchanged earnest looks of consternation with each other, then they both looked back at Mama Cottrell only to encounter a steely eyed look that defied them to protest further. The two girls pushed back their chairs from the table, picked up their bowls and walked over to a floor-to-ceiling cupboard that was to the right of the small sink at the southern wall of the tiny apartment to place them in a dirty basin there. Then they headed downstairs to the basement level with their heads subtly hung, as there was nothing to do downstairs but sleep or stare out windows that were at ground level; not very interesting. Mama Cottrell opened the front door as they went, and conversed in low tones with a man who sounded young, but had a deep voice. They sounded as if they were negotiating or haggling, but the children missed the end of the conversation, reaching the bottom of the stairs and closing the decrepit wooden door there behind them.

The man left as quickly as he’d wandered in at the hour of four first clock the night before; having sobered up considerably over the space of the past several minutes, he barely staggered this time. The two girls waited in a hushed silence for several minutes, barely moving. Finally, Sadine stirred first, shuffling out from their makeshift cubby hole under the bed and walking barefoot over the scarred hardwood floor and up the stairwell to the ground floor and through the kitchen. Rebecca was still frozen in place, and could merely wait for her to come back. Finding the front door hanging open in a last act of ignorant carelessless on the man’s part, Sadine gave a great sigh, one that seemed far too large for her eight-year-old frame, and stuck her head outside to look up the street, then retracted it when she saw no sign of him. She pushed the door closed with a tiny hand that seemed almost to her as if it were someone else’s, then she went wearily back downstairs to the basement, having gotten little sleep the night before.


“She’s … gone.”

“What do you mean? She’s right here.”

Becky popped up, over the side of the bed. Her hair was mussed from brushing the underside of what they passed for a box spring and she blew it away from her face, only to be confronted with the glassy eyes of the corpse of Sadine’s mother.

“Oh gods … what happened to her?”

“That brute happened. That’s what happened. That pig killed her. “

Sadine put both hands to her forehead, as if squeezing it, then let out a small shriek, startling her friend; then she shot to her feet and stormed up the stairs and across the kitchen before throwing open the front door and heading down the street, beginning to sob. Rebecca followed her out; the morning was relatively peaceful in the pre-dawn of five first clock, all gray and misty. The sun hadn’t yet surmounted the horizon fully. After several minutes of inactivity, Rebecca faced Sadine and laid both hands upon her shoulders, trying futilely to make eye contact at first. But Sadine slowly began to calm down, and as she brushed her long brown hair out of her face, she found the other girl’s eyes, which were filled with a profound amount of sympathy. Rebecca slowly began to speak, asking the most obvious question that sprang to mind.

“What should we do now?”

Sadine cast her gaze downward again. “What can we do. We start begging. Or worse, be like her.”

Rebecca laid one small hand on her friend’s right shoulder. “She did love you, Sadie. I know she wasn’t perfect, but … she did. In her weird little way, of course.”

“Yeah … in her little way indeed.” Sadine shrugged her off and began walking barefoot down the pebbled walk that passed for the road that ran past her home. Rebecca darted back into the house, went down the stairs as quickly as she dared, then went for their shoes, nervously glancing at Candace’s body as she did so. With a pair in each hand, she retraced her steps in the earth and avoided the clumps of gravel so as not to cut her feet; Rebecca was about fifty feet further along the road than she had been, head hung and eyes staring, unseeing, at the roadway. Rebecca patted her left shoulder, stopping her and pointed with the only free finger of her own left hand at the pair of tiny shoes in her right hand, raising her eyebrows in silent entreat.

If it hadn’t been for Rebecca, her best friend through thick and thin, maybe Sadine would have fallen to the wayside of society much sooner and thus perished; but as it happened, they at least had each other to lean on in those first few, strange years of co-mingled youth and terror. The next several weeks passed by in a fugue of hunger and uncertainty. The two girls went from place to place, eventually sneaking out of one of the city’s gates and trying to make a hardscrabble living out in the countryside, among the farms and villages. They wound up, more often than not, hiding in empty stable stalls and under bridges that were large enough; thankfully spring was still upon the lands of the nation of Galgran and they at least were not accosted by the cold … which was more than could be said of the roving predators that they encountered on an infrequent basis. They always employed a buddy system, however; never splitting up, they became even more inseparable than before and afforded not a speck of trust to outsiders and strangers.

A woman approached her about thirty-five minutes later while she and Sadine were casing the village, walking parallel paths down two thoroughfares and checking in at every other alleyway. You want some food, no? Well … if you’ll take work, I have some chores that need minding.” Rebecca gave her an odd look, as the woman looked like the human equivalent of a stray cat. She was willowy as a reed, with hair that was a shade between tawny and light orange, long waved and unkempt; she wore a dress that was a dark forest green and black-beaded bracelets with matching, woven necklaces that had a strange symbol as their centerpiece. If she has food, she certainly has no need for it, thought Rebecca suspiciously. But that was not her response; “Chores?” said she, favoring the thin woman with one of her best, patented little smiles, designed to charm just about anyone that she happened to come across. “Sure, I guess we could help you, derr ...”

“Derr?” The woman returned her mock cheerfulness back at her sevenfold with a hearty grin. “How refreshingly … old fashioned. You can just call me Miss, like the other ladies in town. Miss Agneta Khaine. Have you been here long?”

“No … miss. Me and Becky have just been going around the outer villages … mostly looking for food, or maybe some small coin ...” The woman’s long face straightened out into a strange blankness of expression. “Yes … of course. Food. Well, the first step is to find your friend.”
Rebecca’s eyes narrowed, and she looked at the ground for a moment before meeting the woman’s gaze again. “Oh, she’s never far, miss. We keep close to each other ...”

The woman led them to the outskirts of the village. There, built into the side of a hill and partly underground, was a small hovel with two front windows and a wooden door.

“I learned most of what I know from my great-grandmother. I was even younger than you two are now, when she taught me.”

Rebecca looked at Agneta suspiciously. “That young?”

“Sure. I couldn’t control it very well, of course. That stuff comes with age. But I could perform the odd parlor trick, even then.”

“Huh.” Rebecca looked over at Sadine, who seemed to shrug imperceptibly. Like what, what can you do now?”

“You think that I have to show off for the likes of you? Two runaways?”

Sadine seemed irked by the woman’s dismissal. “That’s not what we are, miss. It didn’t quite happen that way … I mean, voluntary and all that.”

“Indeed not, indeed … Well, I can do stuff like this. And with that, the woman raised her right hand up to her own eye level and she murmured a word to it, which sounded like “coursu.” It instantaneously burst into flames, and she gazed at it, a mad gleam came into her eyes. The two girls were aghast; they had never seen anything like it. “Well, I can do stuff like … this.” And with that sentence and a corresponding grin, she began to whip the thin limb about. The two girls almost danced backwards, trying to avoid it at all costs, and she gave chase, thrusting it at each of them in turn, causing them to whip open the still-unlocked front door and run shrieking out into the night and seek refuge in the woods that surrounded the domecile. The weird woman stopped at the woods’ edge and the arm’s flame guttered out with another word uttered from her full lips. She began to call out to them, a small smirk playing upon the lower half of her face, but her well-lashed eyes remained dark and cold.


.......................................................................................................
Well, there you go. I hope you enjoyed what you read.

If you are interested, here are some links providing background info on, and interviews with, Richard Writhen.







The Hiss Of The Blade

The Hiss of the Blade (Celestial Ways Saga: Book 1) by Richard Writhen. An independently published novella, originally released January, 2017. Approx. 185 pages.

The Hiss of the Blade is the opening novella in a projected trilogy by self-published author and personal friend Richard Writhen. The interesting thing is; it is not only part of its own trilogy, but it was released as part of a "trilogy" of novellas which take place on the fictional planet of Cedron (his other two novellas, A Host of Ills and A Kicked Cur, transpire over different time periods). Further, Writhen is carving out a name for himself by writing in a genre which he terms "gothdark"- the simple take being grimdark with gothic tones. The end result is very satisfying; giving us a dark, moody tale which posits high stakes for all those involved.

Before getting into the review proper; here's a look at the current blurb (note: I had gotten the original paperback, and the blurb on that one was a bit more vague):

"Two petty mercenaries are falsely accused of switching sides in a feud between two rich and powerful magnates; an ex-miner on the run from a murder charge becomes a reaver and embroiled in a romance; an industrial lieutenant is recruited to help capture a serial killer and an entire city is in danger of being ensorcelled by an ancient monk."

That is a fairly accurate synopsis for what transpires in THotB. Part of the allure of the rich tale is that Writhen weaves seemingly unrelated threads and story lines into a central convergence point. The aforementioned mercenaries, for example, are tasked with hunting the rogue ex-miner. The story of the serial killer; which bookends the novella, and provides some of the best (and most grotesque) content, holds portents for future installments. And, everything that transpires leads back to the two magnates: a pair of union heavies (one controlling the mining industry, and the other the dairy/agriculture channels) whose game of perennial one upmanship generates waves which flood over the entire region.

Since this is a novella, too much detail leads to issues with spoilers. It's better to focus on the elements involved, especially since Writhen has a very unique authorial style.

Writhen writes in a style which he has termed as "gothdark"; which is to say that it contains elements of gothic and grimdark. The result of this genre copulation is prose which is dark, rich, and evocative. Even when the action is at its most brutal, or the most base slang words are being slung, there is something inherently poetic about the delivery; as if the entirety of the narrative is one of the baroque paintings used for the cover come to life.

Seeing as though he packed a ton of characters, as well as a multitude of story lines, into a compact page count, I also need to laud Writhen on being able to wrangle the maximum amount of detail out of the least amount of words. Honestly; there is no lack of vivid imagery throughout THotB.

The action throughout is top-notch as well. The opening scene; focusing on the serial killer at work, is orchestrated in a manner both disturbing and brutal. There are duels and fisticuffs throughout the story as well; and in each instance the events are composed in a manner both bone-crushing and balletic.

And, finally, there is the lore. One would be hard-pressed to generate a successful fantasy series without the underpinning of an intriguing backdrop. The reader gets dropped straight into THotB without preamble or fancy maps; and from there they are immediately swept up in the action. As the story progresses, however, details are revealed. We learn the basic geography, then the history, religions, etc. The best part is that it is all well-thought out, detailed, and believable.

It's laudable that Writhen is able to pack so much mythology, so many events, and so many distinct characters into a tome that is under 200 pages. In fact; if there is anything that works against the book; it's that there isn't enough room for each character to shine. Meaning; each character could carry the novella as a sole protagonist, but in the situation here they work as a fine ensemble.

So, we can look forward to the further development of these characters in Book 2.. Well, for those of the characters that made it through this installment, at least.

With a classically beautiful cover, and a name derived from the poem "The Sewing Bird" by Fitz-James O'Brien, The Hiss of the Blade delivers a deep and unique experience. Looking forward to continuing this series.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Shades Of Santa


Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas to one and all!

Well, the reason for this post is to promote this anthology.

Shades of Santa, independently published by Things in the Well (edited by Steve Dillon), is a collection of 37 flash-fiction, X-Mas themed dark fiction and horror tales, all divided into 6 separate categories:

Sleigh Bells
All is Calm
The Naughty List
Is That Really an Elf?
Carols, Choirs, and Vocal Chords
Snow People

Sounds cool, right?

Well, the main reason why I am promoting this collection is because....I have a story included in it!

That's right; I finally sold my first piece of flash fiction. My story, "Santa's Little Helpers", appears in the "Is that really an elf?" category.

So, give this collection a whirl. 37 short stories, each one exactly 666 words.

And, all proceeds go to Charity:Water.

Here's the wraparound:



And you can buy it on Amazon here.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Greater Evil

The Greater Evil by Peter Fehervari. A Tau short story, originally published by The Black Library, November 207. Approx. 52 pages.


As you all know, I've been keeping my Warhammer 40K reviews going up at my new blog; however, a new Peter Fehervari short is such a momentous occasion that I had to take a few minutes and post it here as well! Thanks as always for stopping by!

There are few greater causes for celebration than the release of new material from personal favorite author Peter Fehervari; so this week began on a blissful note. On Monday; The Black Library released Fehervari's newest short story, The Greater Evil, which is a Tau-centric tale that weighs in at a whopping 52 pages (nearly twice the length of the average short story; so you're definitely getting more bang for your five bucks).

Now, I will tell you right up front; this story is spectacular. I am seeing a lot of comments within the Facebook groups I frequent that cite The Greater Evil as Fehervari's best short story to date. In all honesty; I am somewhat inclined to agree. I'm pretty sure, as well, that if you read my past reviews of his works, you will see similar sentiments being expressed. This speaks to his overall evolution as an author; certain tales of his have been more dark than others; some more complex with his endless puzzles and riddles. Others are more character driven; while others come up as more accessible to the general palate. The Greater Evil, on the other hand, combines the best of all of these qualities. This is a wonderful, dark, vivid tale that serves as a testimonial that Fehervari has established himself as the best author for writing certain factions.

Now; a note before I continue: there were be a lot of commenting on the merits of the writing here; rather than on the story as a whole. The reason for this is that the blurb for The Greater Evil deliberately leaves the 'bad guys' (well, the faction the Tau is fighting here; 'bad guys' has a lot to do with geography and what side of the fence you are standing on) in the shadows. So, before I go on, here are the details from BL's website, so you have an idea of the basic premise:

A T'au Empire story

An expedition to discover the fate of a long lost Water Caste ambassador and bring an Imperial world into the T'au Empire faces grave peril…

READ IT BECAUSE
Peter Fehervari continues to build his little corner of the Warhammer 40,000 universe in a tale of mystery and danger that will leave you guessing right to the very end.

THE STORY
In the far reaches of the Damocles Gulf, an expedition of the T'au Empire heads for the system known to the Imperium as Yuxa, there to bring the influence of the Greater Good to humanity – and investigate the reappearance of a Water Caste ambassador thought lost years before. Joined by a mysterious Ethereal and defended by gue'vesa auxiliaries – soldiers once of mankind's Imperium, now devoted to the Greater Good – the expedition's leader expects a trap/ But what he finds may just change his perceptions of the galaxy. 

That being said; let's dissect this fantastic story.

Characters:

PF is a meticulous, thoughtful, and insightful author; and his characters directly benefit from this, all of them becoming imbued with true gravitas and authenticity. In any Fehervari work; almost any one of the characters could arguably carry a solid novel on their own, and this is certainly the case in The Greater Evil.

In The Greater Evil, we have a trinity of characters at the fore. First off is Voyle, a former Guardsman currently serving as a Gue'vesa auxiliary. He is a formidable warrior; and has subscribed fully to the philosophy of the Tau. However, like most of the leads in Fehervari's stories; Voyle is a man with a burden hanging around his neck like an albatross. In this case; it is the events that led up to his becoming stranded upon a derelict ship. He carries the guilt of allowing his comrades to die; as well as a festering rage against the Imperium for abandoning him. But, Voyle is also plagued by voices. Voices that keep dragging him into the past....into those pivotal moment. Are these murmurings voices from the past; or the future?

In this short, Fehervari also gives us a new type of Ethereal, known as a "Seeker", here represented by the intriguing character of Kyuhai. Personally, I like the concept of Seekers; who are more Shao Lin monks in comparison to the traditional wizened Confucian sage types that Ethereals are normally portrayed as. Granted; this might prompt some discontent among Tau purists; but I believe the logic underpinning the concept is sound enough to not only justify, but also validate its inclusion. And, Kyuhai is an interesting character. He has the wisdom; as well as the bottom-line pragmatism necessary for his position; but his martial skill allows him more front-line, hands-on involvement.

Also, another nice touch to the concept of the Seeker is that Kyuhai eschews a traditional Honour Guard; opting instead for the assistance of two exceptional kroot warriors. Anyone who has read any of Fehervari's works knows how he excels at writing for these avian conscripts of the Tau Empire - from the skrab infected horrors of Fire Caste, to the determined shaper of Fire & Ice.

Finally, we have a Water Caste ambassador named Adibh. She is yet another example of a well-realized, balanced female Tau character crafted by PF. Always seeking a proper balance in her approach to problem resolution; especially considering their position in being part of seeking a non-violent concordance with the gue'la.

Adibh has all of her personal feelings and values challenged when she is tasked with getting to the bottom of the issue regarding a face from the past - the 'lost' ambassador mentioned in the blurb - who also happens to be a longtime friend of hers; as well as a once-potential pairing mate.

And honorable mention goes to Akuryo; the thoughtful Fire Caste commander whom his loyal gue'vesa troops dub "Stormlight". He manages to steal every scene in which he appears; and acts, even in an inadvertent manner, as a major catalyst in the realization of Voyle's personal arc.

As with other Fehervari stories; there is always the chance of an 'old friend' coming for a visit. I was able to place one major character from a previous work; and there is another one whom I am guessing at, but am currently stuck.

Action:

Fehervari never disappoints in the action department. There is a nice setpiece that dominates the middle of the story (as well as a solid training sequence at the opener). It's always noteworthy how much thought he puts into the mechanics of weaponry; as well as the tactics, of all factions involved.

For me, however, there is one scene that really stole the show. In The Greater Evil, as well as in Fire Caste, there is a scene in which a Crisis Battlesuit is unleashed. And this, this is done masterfully. Also, this scene involves a more traditional, conservative Fire Caste warrior; one who is able to make the on the spot battlefield decision to prioritize saving battle drones over wounded gue'vesa troops; because the former have a greater net value than the latter. It is a perfect reminder that even though the Tau present a more 'humane' option than the cruel brutality of the Imperium; the efficiency upon which their house is built often takes emotion out of the equation.

Visuals:

As always; Fehervari brings his setpieces to life. He delivers vivid, unique imagery, time and again. His take on the gue'vesa troops is truly original, and somewhat bizarre - humans who, in their acceptance of Tau doctrine, have their skin stained blue and faces tattooed with concentric rings.

As mentioned, the setup and detailing of the deserted ship that serves as the theater for Voyle's backstory is a spacebound horror house for the records; more terrifying than the Nostromo or the colony on LV-426.

The hulk hovering above the planet Scitalyss - also known as the Unfolding Nexus - where the latter part of the story transpires; is another bastion of inherent 'wrongness' that keeps the reader looking over their shoulder at each turn.

Word Games:

Of course, the most to have with a new Fehervari release is to try and connect the dots between stories; and also find hidden meanings in names and word choices. As always; there is a lot to be found here.

I've been poring over The Greater Evil for close to a week now; and I'm sure I'm only scratching the surface on the hidden gems that PF has tucked away in here. As we all know, the Dark Coil of his tales snake along of their own accord.

Speaking of snakes, there is something of a serpentine theme going on here. This is evidenced in some of the names. The planet that the Unfolding Nexus hovers above is called Scitalyss. The system that Scitalyss is located in is known as the Yuxa system. This system is of particular interest to a celebrity Tau high ambassador named O'Seishin. If that name rings a bell; it is because he figured heavily in Fire Caste.

It also bears mentioning that aside from Scitalyss, there is only one other life-sustaining planet in the Yuxa System. A lovely little world known as Phaedra....

The name of our troubled gue'vesa soldier, Voyle, has a dead giveaway for one of the big story twists in it if you check it out on Wikipedia.

Also, the direct translation of the name of the aforementioned Fire Warrior commander, Akuryo, holds a significance in regards to Voyle as well.

If I am reading correctly, there is also a connection between Voyle's backstory and the ending of a recent Fehervari story.

Well, I'm sure I am missing plenty more. If you do spot any; feel free to mention them in the comments.

In Conclusion:

So, to reiterate, The Greater Evil is yet another fantastically written notch in Peter Fehervari's belt. The quality of his writing has evolved so profoundly; and he has shown without a doubt that he is the best author in the Black Library stable for writing Tau. Tau are so much more than angular; anime-inspired fighting suits. There is a pervading philosophy throughout their race which perhaps positions them as a more benevolent 'master' in the war-torn universe of the 41st millennium....but as with all philosophies, there are always dark corners.

And when you need to explore the dark corners of the universe, you can do no better than Peter Fehervari.

Now, I could possibly see some having issue with the ending of this story. While I feel that The Greater Evil offers a conclusive ending; it is obvious that it is the beginning of a larger story begging to be told. Just to reiterate; it is not an open-ended, ambiguous ending (although I never mind those if they are done right), nor is it a cliff-hanger that denies closure to the reader. Here's hoping that Black Library gives him the chance to add more to this excellent story.

Oh, I must also mention; The Greater Evil both opens and closes with two of the greatest lines that I have read in any 40K fiction. The opening line; an exordium of sorts (is it any coincidence that Voyle's guard unit was the "Exordio" Void Breachers?), prepares the audience for the kind of twisting narrative which Fehervari is famous for. And then, the final line bludgeons the reader mercilessly over the head with a cold truth; a cold truth that reveals itself at a point far past any hope of a remedy.

As always, I simply cannot recommend this story highly enough. Get it now, get it here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

From The Ice They Came

From The Ice They Came by Eric S. Brown  and N.X. Sharps. Originally published by Severed Press, April 2017. Approx. 136 pages.

From the Ice They Came, a neat little collaborative novella by Brown and Sharps, is a fun romp that combines military action, psychic powers, and Lovecraftian influences. The end result is fast paced, self-aware, and, towards the end, absolutely drenched in blood and ichor. Before we dissect it, let's take a look at the back cover blurb, which summarizes all quite nicely:

"Without warning or explanation U.S. Army Captain Robert Gilman is escorted to a cutting-edge research base in the Antarctic tundra by the shady multinational Ward Consortium. Competent but otherwise unexceptional, it turns out that his long suppressed abilities could be the lynchpin to decrypting the enigma posed by a tablet that predates human history. Isolated from civilization, presented with the carrot and the stick by the Consortium, and surrounded by others with special abilities of their own, ultimately curiosity compels Gilman to travel down the rabbit hole. But the further he delves, the greater the strain on reality becomes, and before long he discovers the Eibon Complex may well be ground zero for an inter-dimensional invasion by forces beyond human comprehension."

Let me just start out by stating that there is nothing either "new" or groundbreaking here. FTITC cobbles together elements of Lovecraft, The Thing, X-Men, and a slew of other iconic properties into a decadent morsel of entertainment loaf. Also, as mentioned, the writing is done in an an easy, breezy, self-aware style that helps move the proceedings along quickly. This is not a deep book; but rather something akin to an old B-movie classic. This is not a damning indictment; but actually high praise.

Characters:
While our characters are instantly recognizable, they are also fairly memorable. Robert Gilman (nice 40K nod there) is a fairly even blend between military type and pop-culture referencing geek. He does his best to be a hero in the face of the unknown and impossible; all the while cultivating his dormant psychic skills.

He is, of course, given a romantic interest, as well as a pretty-boy foil. There is an interesting character in the leader of the team of red-shirts, er, military contractors tasked with guarding the base. And, the whole shebang is overseen by a classic corporate ice queen.

Again, nobody new, but still fresh.

Setting:
There's two primary settings to focus on here. First is the facility. Centered in the middle of Antarctica, it is a high-tech hub in the midst of the world's most barren tundra. The description of the facility itself is well-done, but the Antarctic wasteland is an afterthought. When writing for that setting, you want to stress how remote it is (hence cut away from help), and how brutal the weather is. This is done to a degree, but not as much as it could have been (see Alan Dean Foster's novelization of The Thing for a primer on this).

The other setting is the "dream world"; the world in which, during the middle of the story, we snatch glimpses of the bizarre landscapes in which the creatures dwell. Here Brown and Sharps flex a bit more authorial muscle; painting with Lovecraftian shades of hallucinogenic colors and impossible geometric influences.

Creatures:
Ah, yes. The "They" of the title. You actually get a lot of creature bang for your buck in this novella. There are two types on offer: lobster-mantids and brutal, overgrown space amoebas. The descriptions of the creatures themselves, as well as the devastation which they unleash, is superb.

Action/Pacing:
Again, the pacing here is nice and brisk. If you are a normal reader, you can probably finish this in the time it takes to watch a movie; a good pairing for the cinematic feel of the prose. We start with the bonding scenes of the group in the facility, move on to a few weird jaunts through the hellish dreamscapes, and then it's about thirty straight pages of explosive climax.

The action is well-done; replete with plentiful gunplay and flying gobbets. One might complain that the psychic powers of the Gifted aren't used more in the climax; but a key issue is the physical/emotional drain that usage foists upon the user.

In summary; if there is one complaint that I can offer, it is (and other reviewers have pointed it out as well) that the proofreading here is really poor. I usually don't quibble about typos here and there; but in this book we are averaging 1-2 a page. I put this on the publisher more than the authors; but still, it is a deterrent to fully enjoying the book.

So, I saved this book for October, which is when I am usually looking for a good scare or two. Alas, there are no scares here, but plenty of action and witty, self-aware quips and references. Don't take it all too seriously, and you'll have a great time.

Plus, it has a solid (open) ending.

Cover:

This is a nice enough cover, especially for a small press book. However, there are no critters like this in these pages.

At first glance, I thought that this was some sort of Cthulhoid creature, with tentacles across the mouth. Upon closer glance; well, I'm not sure. It looks sort of like a helmet and humanoid face.

Either way, it reminds me of Nemesis Enforcer from the G.I. Joe Movie.